Tag Archives: colter bay

Skillet Attempt – Mount Moran

Location: GTNP, Mount Moran, Jackson Lake, Skillet Glacier
Elevation: 10,780′, 5,094′ gain/loss
Distance: 24 miles RT
Difficulty: 5 stars
Time: 12-16 hours

Trip Report:

Date: 1/16/2016
Snow Conditions: Powder, consolidated powder, faceted powder, crust 20″ under new snow



Skiing the Skillet back in May of 2012 was one of my first major ski descents in the Tetons.  I can still remember the feeling I had entering the runout under moonlight, looking upwards 6000′ to the summit of Moran.  It took us a long time, but we made it to the top of the Skillet and enjoyed the views from the summit of Moran.  We skied the whole “couloir” down to Jackson Lake without issue, despite my alpine boots and lack of skins.  Ever since than, I have looked up at Mount Moran and wondered what a 6000′ ski down the Skillet would be like in winter conditions.  You certainly couldn’t paddle a canoe to Bearpaw Bay, or bring a 12 pack for the afterparty-but the advantages would be the potential powder. The Skillet lies in one of the more remote places in GTNP, requiring a 7miles (one way) skin from Colter Bay and a 6000′ climb to the summit of Moran.  This type of day requires a level of fitness and snow conditions that don’t happen often.  With that said: Dane, Brian Close and I decided to give it a try on Saturday with the weather conditions calling for snow after 11am….

With all this in mind, we left Jackson at 5:15am and were moving from Colter Bay at 6:25am.  It was dark, but I used my Suunto Traverse to make the way in the direction of the northern edge of the Skillet Couloir.  We continued on for about an hour in the dark until the sun stared to shine through and at that point, we realized we were on target-heading right for the Skillet!



Around this time we crossed our first of three major areas of “slush pockets”.  These occur when, “the ice cracks and water can rush up through the crack on top of the ice but under the insulating snow, and form slush pockets.   These slush pockets can become very broad, sometimes covering entire lakes under the snow, and they are a hazard to travelers.” (Wintertrekking.com)

These points on a skin are a little scary, considering we had yet to hear of anyone crossing Jackson Lake and it was very early in the morning.  Regardless-we gingerly continued on and hoped for the best.  We had been making great time for the first half of the lake (about 3.5mph), but the last half was SLOW and we hit land at 9:25am, 3hrs after beginning.


After cleaning off our skis (the slush freezes quickly) we ate some food and got our gear ready for the climb up the Skillet.  It was around this time I realized that the handle of my Black Diamond pole was hanging on by a thread.   I touched it and it fell off my pole….


After some wonderful “Gorilla Tape” construction by Dane, my pole was functional, but not ideal-considering it was missing the handle.  It was only 120cm long, not the 145cm I usually skin with, but we had to move on.  We worked our way up and to the left through willows and tight pines, until we were finally in the runout of the Skillet.  Here we took a look at the time and saw that we needed to move fast.  It had begun to snow lightly over the past hour and we were still around 5000′ from the summit.  We continued up, stopping only once to drink water-very aware of the time we had to make up.


The snow was exceptionally deep and we were not able to make good time.  We worked our way into the gut of the couloir, finding more consolidated snow in avy paths on the lower portions of the run.  We continuously were looking around and taking check of the snow conditions.  We didn’t see any “major” concerns, despite the fact it was snowing on a huge line in a remote area-so we continued up.  At around 9000′, the sun crept out of the clouds and we were greeted with limited visibility.  The couloir appeared to have flushed at some point in the past few days and the wind was blowing from the northwest….with this new information, we continued on and into the belly of the Skillet.



At about 10,000′ the run mellows out into a 20 degree zone with massive cliffs on either side.  Here, there clouds rolled in and the snow picked up.  We moved up for a while, but eventually the sound of snow flushing off the upper reaches of the mountain became too much to ignore.  We stopped at 10,780′ on a raised portion of the belly to discuss going further.  We could see the last cliff band in the couloir that we had to overcome before the “handle” of the Skillet.  We had a quick chat about what to do next, but there wasn’t much of a discussion to have.  Everything would have had to happen in our favor for this to be a success and with the visibility near zero, we only had once choice….ski down to the lake.  While we were disappointed, the snow was DEEP and we had a blast ripping our way down to the lake.


We tried for something most wouldn’t even consider and failed.  While it was a tough pill to swallow, I am confident to be back at the Skillet in the near future to accomplish the rare feat.  We made it back across the lake and to Colter Bay just before sunset, 11hrs after starting.  We were tired, thirsty and cold-but at least we tried.

Keep on Adventuring!

Peak 10,686


Location: GTNP, Waterfall Canyon, Jackson Lake
Tags: Backcountry Skiing, Ski Mountaineering
Elevation, Gain/Loss: 10,686’, 4,127’ gain/loss
Distance: 9 miles
Difficulty: 4 stars
Time:  7-9 hours

Trip Report:

Date: 1/14/2015
Snow Conditions: Faceted Snow, Powder, Breakable Crust, Bouncy Snow

A week of high pressure and some light snow begged me into GTNP to see what the high alpine skiing was like.  After a relatively late alpine start (6:30am from Jackson), Grant and I were off to Colter Bay and the always exhilarating lake crossing.  We were moving at 7:50am, finding the inversion had lifted enough to give us a view of the shore in front of Waterfalls Canyon.

Grant making his way to Waterfalls Canyon right before the fog enveloped us.
Grant making his way to Waterfalls Canyon right before the fog enveloped us.

After about 15 minutes on the ice, we were engulfed by a fog layer that made it hard to see beyond our ski tips.  As we proceeded in the direction we thought was the shore, we quickly realized that we were zigzagging north to south and needed to pull out a compass.  After many, many failed attempts to go straight and several scary “drops” into trapped surface water, we finally saw a faint shoreline and headed for it.  We reached land around 2hrs from leaving the truck, a far cry from the 45min it usually takes to cross the lake, but we were happy to have made it and ready for the uphill.  At this point, we were not 100% sure which side of Waterfalls Canyon we had landed on, but had a hunch we needed to move left.  So, we gained some elevation and slowly made our way out of the fog and into a beautiful, sunny paradise.

Above the clouds.
Above the clouds.

After determining where we were, we decided that Black Hole Couloir and Eagles Rest Peak were out of the question for the day (our initial objectives), but since we were already on a moraine of Peak 10,686, we decided to continue up and ski one of the many bowls it offered.  The up was constant, gaining 2000′ in just over an hour at one point, but we broke trail and kept moving forward until we reached the final ridge that would bring us to the summit.

Grant, making his way to up the summit ridge.
Grant, making his way to up the summit ridge.

From this vantage point, we had great views into Waterfalls Canyon and an excellent look into Black Hole Couloir.  It looked like it would have been amazing and a line I would like to ski again soon if the conditions allowed.

Black Hole Couloir.
Black Hole Couloir.

We continued up the ridge for around 500′, until the wind drifts became too large to skin up, so we transitioned to boot pack mode and made our way up the remaining 500′ to the summit.  From here, the east face of Ranger Peak looked very tempting and an unnamed couloir deep in Waterfalls Canyon, on a sub peak of Doane Peak seemed to be a promising objective for another day.

"Unnamed Couloir", Waterfalls Canyon
“Unnamed Couloir”, Waterfalls Canyon

After the sightseeing, we geared up for the ski and decided on the run down.  Since we were a little unsure of the snow pack, we decided on a minor ski cut at the top of the bowl and then some “safe” turns along the ridge until we felt comfortable with the snow.  Surprisingly, the snow was very stable and playful in the top bowl…allowing us to open up some big turns down to a north facing treed aspect.

Grizz getting ready to ski.
Grizz getting ready to ski.
The upper bowl of 10,686 was skiing nice.
The upper bowl of 10,686 was skiing nice.
Getting into the gully.
Getting into the gully.

We skied the bowl down to the main gully and kept high right to avoid the tight “meat grinder”, making playful turns down mini north facing faces.  Here we came around from the north, now facing Jackson Lake, and were able to take a look at our awful skin track across the lake (sorry!).


After taking a moment to reflect on our amazing skin track, we continued down to the lake and were greeted by some fantastic turns down wide open mellow powder fields.  We made our way back to the shoreline and prepared for the skin back across frozen Jackson Lake.  The skin back wasn’t too bad, considering its imperfect line, and we made it across in just over an hour.

Views of the Tetons from Jackson Lake.
View of the Tetons from Jackson Lake.

In total, the trip took us 8 hours and 30 minutes, but considering the time spent on the ice, I was content. It was a fantastic day: great skiing, good problem solving and above all another fun rip in GTNP.